“We are totally prepared for a very long shutdown,” the president declared Friday.
It is in some ways a perfectly Trumpian end to the second chaotic year of his presidency. He sank a bipartisan deal with contradictions and outbursts that his Republican allies scrambled to manage around. The pattern is recognizable now.
But this moment could mark a potential turning point in the Trump presidency, coming just before power is set to transfer to Democrats in the House. Events of this past week exposed Trump’s growing isolation, with more staff leaving and fewer allies on Capitol Hill willing to fight his chosen fights.
The veneer of party unity on spending votes and border security did not hide deepening rifts inside Trump’s Republican Party -- as well as growing concerns inside his party about the direction and stability of the presidency.
And the shutdown doesn’t even register as the biggest story of the week in Trump’s Washington. The president’s shocking announcement of a troop withdrawal from Syria was met with an absolute bombshell: the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.
The former Marine Corps general has widely been seen as a force for stability inside the Trump orbit. His departure sparked uncommon public concern about what this means for the White House from here.
Mattis wrote in his letter to Trump that he was leaving “because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”
The letter made clear that Mattis is growing worried about the isolationist strands of Trump’s preferred foreign policy -- worries being shared publicly by a number of White House allies.
“I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote in an unusually blunt statement.
That news came as other signs of strain made themselves evident.
Earlier in the week, a federal judge spoke out with barely concealed anger about the actions of Trump’s former national security adviser.
“Arguably, you sold your country out,” Judge Emmet Sullivan told Michael Flynn, at a sentencing hearing that was ultimately postponed until March.
Even before the judge’s unusual lecture, some Republicans began to express concern that serious crimes might have been committed by members of the president’s inner circle. Robert Mueller’s investigation is now certain to extend into 2019, when oversight on Capitol Hill will pick up as Democrats take control of the House.
This past week also brought celebrations from House Republicans of the anniversary of the massive tax cut Trump signed into law, in what was arguably his biggest legislative accomplishment.
But major economic indices are down over the past year, with a brutal December for the stock market pointing toward an uncertain economy in the coming months.
Then comes the impending shutdown. The White House signaled to Senate Republicans that the president would support a temporary spending measure that the Senate had passed in order to keep the federal government running.
But, faced with a revolt among conservative commentators and some lawmakers, Trump reversed course and insisted again on funding for his wall. Senators who thought they were home for the holidays were forced back on long flights, and an exasperated Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, called it a “tyranny of radio talk-show hosts.”
It’s been less than two months since the president’s efforts to rev up his base fell short in the midterms, with Republicans losing 40 House seats. Trump, of course, remains focused in public comments on the two Senate seats his Republican Party also picked up in the elections.
The president’s general response has been to return to his base for political fuel, despite diminishing returns.
Back in his 2016 campaign, Trump famously cast himself as the antidote to broken politics: “I alone can fix it,” he said at his convention.
But a characterization from one of Trumps’ vanquished rivals, Jeb Bush, is more apt at moments like this.
“He’s a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president,” the former Florida governor said.
Until now, Trump could count on his party to be a big part of what he created -- up to and including the chaos. But amid existential threats to the Trump presidency, there are signs of patience wearing thin.